While the eyes of Europe are on the football, racism and heavy handed policing in Poland and Ukraine as Euro 2012 dominates our TV screens, a footballing legend of old has quietly put his name to a campaign to free a fellow player on hunger strike at risk of death in a prison many miles away.
Former Manchester United forward-turned-film-star Eric Cantona has signed a letter to sports minister Hugh Robertson and UEFA president Michel Platini asking them to put pressure on Israel to release 25-year-old Gaza footballer Mahmoud Sarsak.
Sarsak, a promising young star of the Palestinian national team, was arrested in July 2009 while attempting to travel to the occupied West Bank for a game. He has been in prison without charge or trial ever since. He began a hunger strike nearly 90 days ago, he has lost a third of his body weight and doctors say he is now close to death.
The letter, organised by Palestinian solidarity activists and also signed by Show Racism the Red Card, film director Ken Loach, professor Noam Chomsky, Michael Mansfield QC, journalist John Pilger and novelist Ahdaf Soueif, calls on authorities to show the same concern over racism and human rights abuses in Israel as they have in Poland and Ukraine.
“Racism, human rights abuses and gross violations of international law are daily occurrences in that country… Israeli jails house around 4,000 Palestinian political prisoners, more than 300 of them "administrative detainees" held without charge or trial,” it reads.
“[Sarsak], and all victims of abuse by the Israeli state, need our support. It is time to end Israel's impunity and to insist on the same standards of equality, justice and respect for international law that we demand of other states.'
The letter comes as FIFA president Sepp Blatter "expressed grave concern" regarding the incarceration of members of the Palestine team in Israel.
Last week Amnesty launched a new report 'Starved of justice: Palestinians detained without trial by Israel, documenting the human rights violations associated with administrative detention – a relic of British control of the area that permits detention without charge or trial on indefinitely renewable military orders.
According to the international professional footballers association FIFAPro, there are other footballers unfairly detained. The organisation is concerned about stories of other players whose freedom of movement is curtailed and others who have been harassed, arrested or even killed.
Amnesty continues to campaign to for all administrative detainees to be given fair trials or released but in the meantime there’s a petition here, calling on the Israeli authorities to release Sarsak as a matter of urgency. Please sign it now, before it’s too late.
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